Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Transformed In A Culture Of Conformity

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

It amazes me how a culture that prides itself on individuality, one that preaches the motto “You be you and I'll be me” truly stresses conformity. From our government to Hollywood we are taught that we can think what we want to think, as long as those thoughts line up with theirs. This pressure to conform comes in many ways, some more subtle than others. Perhaps it is the talking head on the news channel telling you that disagreeing is treason or maybe it is simply a coworker who keeps reminding you which people are worth something to society and which are not. The danger of this worldly conformity is that it blinds us to the beauty of God working all around us.

The one thing all of these influences have in common, no matter their source, is that they each believe their view is the right view and you must agree with them. I know the irony of typing that statement about the world is that many people will accuse Christians of the same thing. However, there is an important difference. I am not trying to convince you that my views and thoughts are the right views and thoughts. As a Christian I myself must first yield to a higher authority than me. I must yield to God - to His thoughts and His ways.

That is why the bible tells us to not be conformed to this age, to our societies teachings or influence, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our mind. How do we do this? By looking to God’s word first, by seeking out time with God first, and by training yourself in the spiritual discipline of hearing His still, small voice - the voice of truth.

One of my hobbies is magic, sleight of hand and illusion. One of the things I love about magic is it proves the lie that seeing is believing. With skillful manipulation, I can make you see many things that are not true. However, the Bible shows us that the opposite is true - believing is seeing. God does not have to prove Himself to us or put on a show for us. In fact, it is the utmost of human pride to believe that God has to show us anything! But the amazing thing is that when we believe and trust in Him we will begin to see Him at work not only in our life but in the lives of those around us. Our belief opens our eyes to the truth. Our faith is made sight.

When we seek Him first, when we shut out the clutter and noise of this world and let Him and His truth renew our mind then we will be transformed, renewed and able to see the work of God around us.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Joy To The World?

1st Peter 1:6 -7 6 You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials 7 so that the genuineness of your faith — more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We sometimes get the wrong view of childlike faith.  Take Christmas for example.  We look back longingly for the simple time when we were kids and we knew that our gifts would be under the tree, our Christmas dinner would be on the table and we would have plenty of time for rejoicing and celebrating and playing.  Now as adults we know the worry of the budget to buy those gifts and the food.  We feel the press of the schedule that squeezes our hearts and minds back to work even while we are sitting with family and friends.

It is not that when we were younger we did not understand those pressures, it’s just that we trusted our parents to handle it for us.  Likewise, our faith today is not a blind one where we ignore the pressures and the problems we face, rather it is a childlike one that endures the difficulties while trusting our Heavenly Father to provide for us in His way and in His time. Christianity is not a religion of fake happiness until the real thing comes.  Christian joy is not a phony smile covering a crying heart.  It is the joy of a genuine faith in a genuine God who has made a genuine promise to you.

It is interesting in verse six how we have both joys - “rejoice” - and struggles at the same time.  The Christian life is not one of perfection or lack of troubles.

Do not beat yourself up if you do not feel joyful all the time.  Do not think you have failed as a Christian if you are not always bursting with joy.  Often, how we feel does not measure up to what we know.  If you have accepted Christ you know He is in your life and what He has done for you, but sometimes in the daily grind of life you take your eyes off of Him.  Sometimes you simply do not feel joyful.  That is okay, perfect joy will be realized when we are home with Him.  In the meantime, it takes keeping your eyes on Jesus to remain in His joy.

Far too often when we feel like we have no joy it is because we are looking for it anywhere and everywhere except the one place we can find it.  We seek out distractions instead of discipline.  We look to entertainment instead of enlightenment.  When you look to the world for joy instead of to Jesus you will find only a poor imitation, you will find only fools gold.

Fools gold is the fake yellowish crystal that tricked many miners into thinking they had struck it rich and had found what they were looking for.  However, this abundant rock was worthless.  It glittered and promised but it did not deliver.  Such is the promise of much this world has to offer.  But if you can keep your eyes on Jesus and actively seek out your joy in Him even in the midst of the trials and struggles of this world then you will find, as verse seven tells us, something more valuable than even real gold.  Something refined and pure that will last forever.

We realize that joy is not a burden for us when we realize that our joy is not found in this world and is not tied to our present circumstances.  We discover true joy when we realize that God is actively laying the foundation for our joy, not in passing but for eternity.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Persistent Love

Psalm 46:6-7  6 Nations rage, kingdoms topple; the earth melts when He lifts His voice. 7 The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah

An unusual survey was done a few years ago, Participants in the survey were asked this question.......what 3-word sentence would you most like to hear or have said to you? The top three answers were 1. I love you.....2. I forgive you.......3. Supper is ready. (1)

We live in an ever changing world and we should not be surprised by that. God created a universe that is always in motion. We live on a planet that is spinning around its axis while flying around a sun that is itself soaring through a galaxy that is rapidly streaming through the expanse of the universe. Nothing stays the same for any length of time. Nothing, that is, except God.

Look at how the world is described in verse 6 - nations rage and kingdoms topple. Just when we think we are adjusted to what is going on this crazy world up and changes on us. We look at life on a global scale and we see how it is utter chaos and therefore we begin to doubt that God is still paying attention or that He even cares anymore.

But the Psalmist reminds us that even when it feels like the world is in chaos, God is with us and is our refuge. While the world and even all of creation may be in constant change, God is not a part of creation - He is the creator. God’s plan is the same today as it was before He made the first atom. Nothing has derailed it or thwarted it and nothing ever will. God’s character is the same today as it was when He came to Bethlehem, and His love is the same as it was when He went to the cross for you. God’s love is unchanging.

If you look up unchanging you will find many definitions, including eternal and permanent, but my favorite definition is persistent. God's love for us is persistent. It does not let us go. In the three word survey I mentioned everyone wanted to hear I love you, love is something we desire, and everyone needed to hear I forgive you, forgiveness is not something we desire unless we have done something that needs forgiving.

Here’s the kicker, we often fear that our need to hear I forgive you means we will never again hear I love you. The things I have done that require me to need forgiveness must cancel out the love you were willing to show me. But it doesn’t. You see God’s love is persistent even through our failings. Why is it important that His love is unchanging and persistent?

Because it is by His love that we live, it is by His love that we survive, it by His love that we have hope, peace and joy. We vastly underestimate the power of God’s love.

His love can transform your life. His love can open the doors for you to make it through trials. His love can save you and show you what this life is all about. His love is not a Christmas present you will ever outgrow or get bored of. It is not something you can get your fill of or run out of.

This Christmas realize that God’s love is more than seasonal. It is active, unchanging and it is eternal.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

(1)Illustration given in a sermon by Matt Parker

Monday, December 3, 2018

Great Expectations

Psalm 5:3 At daybreak, Lord, You hear my voice; at daybreak I plead my case to You and watch expectantly.

There are many things to look at around Christmas time.  The lights, the trees, the plethora of movies and the over abundance of decorated cookies.  Of course, as Christians we want to focus on the nativity, on the very true story of the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary so many years ago.  However, when we are looking at Christmas it is a good idea to look at more than just the manger scene, more than just the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes but to try to see the whole picture from every angle.

We have a tradition in the Christian faith that for centuries has sought to focus our eyes not just on Christmas but on the whole meaning behind it. It is called advent and it is a way at looking at Christmas with a sense of great expectation.

The verse above is from Psalm five.  In this psalm, David talks about how the unrighteous can not even enter into God’s presence yet by God’s faithful love David can cry out to Him and eagerly await God’s appearing. He knows there is no hope, no love, no joy, and no peace apart from God. He knows God is going to work great and mighty things and he watches for Him expectantly.

That is advent. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas where we stop and refocus on more than the trappings of Christmas but on the larger story that it is a part of. The story of our awesome God, His amazing grace, and His redeeming love. This isn't a program or a structured bible study. It isn’t a devotional or a to-do list. It is simply a chance to encourage within each of us a frame of mind that allows the Holy Spirit to refresh us. An opportunity to realize that we can lay aside our business and our stress and let Jesus Christ revive us this season.

If you go back and read the Old Testament you see time and time again examples of individuals crying out to God or watching expectantly, like David, for what God is going to do. They may not have known the specifics or the details but they believed firmly that God was going to make things right. They had faith that God was going to come and fix what we had broken.

The Old Testament Saints were saved by grace through the faith that they had in God’s future act of mercy. As we approach this advent season, remember that they had faith in someone who was coming, we have faith in that same someone who has already come and will come again.

God the Father, through Jesus His Son, gives us grace that goes beyond your current circumstance or this world’s current crazy situation but instead carries us into eternity. You see the miracle of Christmas is not just hope for now, it is hope forever more. It is a hope not just in our future but in His future.

In Advent, we put ourselves in the shoes of those people awaiting the coming of Christ so many years ago. But truthfully we should always be doing the same thing today. Whereas the people long ago were awaiting their Messiah to come and walk among them, we are awaiting our King to come and take us home.  We celebrate the hope that this Christmas brings, hope that we can experience today, and every day, but let us also keep our eyes forward to the hope that is to come when He returns for us.

Like a child waiting for his gift on Christmas day, let us wait for our coming King with great expectation.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Distraction Of The Season

Luke 10:41-42 41 The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

In this well known encounter told in Luke, chapter ten, Jesus and His disciples have dropped in on Mary and Martha, two sisters who were friends and followers of Jesus. Martha is busying herself being the perfect hostess. In her day the women were expected to wait on the guests and they were judged by how well they did so. For a respected, important guest they were not not only expected to wait on them but to wow them with hospitality. Meanwhile, her sister Mary was sitting along with the disciples, at Jesus’ feet, listening intently to what He had to say. Because of this Martha is frustrated. Why should she be doing all the work! She asks Jesus to tell Mary to get up and give her a hand!

The response of Jesus went past the superficial and the cultural expectations of the day, past that present situation and straight to the heart of Martha. In verse 41, He says: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things ...” We know that in this passage Martha is aggravated by what she sees as her sister’s distraction, but Jesus seems to go deeper here. He says that Martha worries about many things. The scripture doesn’t tell us exactly what Martha was worried about, but you get the sense that she worried a lot and not always about the things that mattered.

What gets you worried and upset? Very often we get worried, upset and distracted by the wrong things in this life. I love decorating for Christmas and seeing the tree all lit up. I love even more watching the children’s face light up when they see the decorations all in place. But it is possible to take it too far. I’m not talking about putting up so many lights that Watts Bar has to start up another nuclear reactor! I’m talking about when decorating becomes a competition, either with your neighbors or against an unreachable standard you see on Instagram. Very often people mistake photo-shopped pictures of perfect decorations, meals or outfits as reality and then stress when they look in the mirror and don't see the same thing or they look around their house and see a tree with moldy handmade Christmas ornaments from their kid's kindergarten instead of a professionally dressed tree.

Wrong distractions take our eyes off of Jesus and onto things that are either sins, problems, or simply worthless. When you get distracted by these things you are elevating them in your life and giving them a place of honor. You are saying they are more important to you than God.

It easy to get distracted and stressed during the silly season. Sometimes it is worry over problems - many of which you won’t even remember having next year, a few of which are serious but none are bigger or more important than God. Even worse is when you look at your problems and say, God, I can’t worship you now, I have too many problems. That’s like saying you can’t go to the doctor because you are sick or you can’t go to the dentist because you have a toothache! You are denying yourself the cure and the relief when you focus on the problem more than on God!

Jesus gives us the answer in verse 42 when He says Mary has made the right choice. What was her choice? Sitting at the feet of Jesus and focusing on Him.

Let me ask you; do you want to stand before God one day and say decorations are more important than you? Do you want to stand before your creator and say my image is more important than you? Do you want to stand before your Savior and see those nail-scarred hands and say my sin was more important than you? When you let these things distract you from God then that is what you are doing. What have you given a place of honor in your life that is distracting you from God?

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Monday, November 19, 2018

More To Thanksgiving Than Food

John 6:24-26  24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “ Rabbi, when did You get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “ I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.

This incident takes place right after Jesus had fed the 5,000. Afterward, Jesus sneaks away from the crowd and crosses the Sea of Galilee, on foot by the way, but the people find Him and follow Him across the water by boat the next day. The crowd is all like Teacher we’re so glad we found you! We’ve been looking everywhere for you! And Jesus, who knows their hearts and our hearts perfectly, stops them cold and tells them; You didn’t come here for the teaching. You didn’t come here for Me. The only reason you sought me out was to get some more of the free food!

The people that followed Jesus across the lake weren't really looking for what He was teaching – they were there for the food! Imagine having the opportunity to sit at the foot of Christ and hear the secrets of eternal life being spoken by the Word Himself and instead just asking for a meal! They took a blessed opportunity and made it all about food!

Happy Thanksgiving. Folks! I can imagine what y’all are thinking. Oh, no this isn't what I wanted to
read on Thanksgiving! You’ve moved beyond stepping on my toes, now you’re stepping on my full belly!  Years ago worked for LifeWay Christian Resources I came in for my first day of training and was greeted with a delicious barbecue dinner and a time of fellowship with my new coworkers. Before we even began working we had food - I knew I was working for a Baptist organization!

We Baptist's do love to eat. Now do not get me wrong. I love food, food is important, we need it to live and I always look especially forward to the delicious meals on Thanksgiving day, but there is more to Thanksgiving than food, football, and parades. We should give thanks for everything we are blessed with but there must be a priority to our thanksgiving.

We should be more thankful for the people gathered around our table than the food sitting on our table.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches us to ask that God will Give us this day our daily bread. He is talking about our daily needs, those things we need to make it through the day. Those things we too often take for granted. When it is there we never think of it. When it is gone we worry about it without end. Why are we more thankful for it when it is returned than before it is lost in the first place?

Have you noticed that here in John six after the crowd is miraculously fed, there is no mention of a thank you? Jesus gives thanks to the Father, of course, but does the crowd thank Jesus after the meal? If they did it was not recorded and so we have this image of the crowd eating their full and waking up the next morning looking for their free breakfast and only realize they need to seek out Jesus when their stomachs are hungry.

What can you learn from this crowd? Here are two lessons I see for us:

1. Don’t wait for something to be lost before you are thankful for it. One of the fastest ways to lose God’s providence in our life is to treat it as something we deserve rather than as a gracious gift.

2. Seek out God for God. The blessings are not the reason we seek out a relationship with God. It is not let’s get the blessings of heaven and oh yeah God is thrown in as a bonus. Love the giver of gifts more than the gifts themselves. That will help you to see that Thanksgiving is more than food.

Enjoy this day with your family, eat a lot, watch the parades and the games, have some fun!  Just make sure you also take some time to reflect and be truly thankful to God for that which can not be measured and doesn't have a price tag.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Be Generous With Your Prayers

Ephesians 6:18 Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.

Hopefully, if you’ve been reading these devotions, you are becoming aware of the necessity and power of prayer in our lives and how that power is not limited to only those who are close to us. We pray to an infinite God with an infinite reach and when we join our prayers with those of Christians around the world God answers in places and within people we will not see or know until we are home in heaven. We know and are thankful that the effectiveness of our prayers do not lie in our ability to pray but in the power of the One we pray too, but we must be willing to offer up those prayers.

In Ephesians, chapter six, Paul tells us to put on the armor of God so we can be ready for the spiritual battle we all face in a world full of hate, temptation and brokenness. He closes this passage with a plea for us to pray at all times for all the saints (believers in Christ). Paul understood full well that none of us can make it through this world without prayer and that the most helpful attitude we can have is to be generous with our prayers.

My five year old daughter Katie went through a time where she wanted to give away everything, all of her toys and clothes. At first, I was happy to see such a generous spirit but when I asked her why she was doing it she said: “I know if I give away what I have you will buy me something new!” I had to explain to her the limits of her father’s wallet! However, for our Father in Heaven, this is exactly true. He blesses us with great things so we can use them wisely to help others. If we are good stewards and give according to His will then He will ensure our needs are met.

That is why it strikes me as odd that the one blessed gift we never have to worry about running out of
is the one we sometimes are so stingy with - Prayer. We often treat prayer as if it is something that is limited, something we have to save for. “I’d pray for this small need but what if I have a bigger need later on?”

What is worse is when we treat our prayer for others the same way. I once had a man tell me that his neighbor had asked him to pray for his children who were not living in God’s will. The man refused, saying he would not pray for them until they were living in God's will. I asked him, how could they live in God’s will without someone praying for them? The truth is we all need prayer, that is why Paul encourages us here to be generous in our prayers for others. Not just for him, but for all the saints.

Maybe you have a list of people you pray for regularly. It might have people from you church, your children, maybe your neighbors - depending on how well you know them and, let’s be honest, whether or not you like them. It is wonderful to have a list to remind you of those you know are in need of prayer, but don’t be afraid to go beyond your list. Pray for our leaders, whether you voted for them or not, pray for those who annoy you, pray for the girl who handed you lunch out the drive-thru window, the guy who took your favorite parking spot. When you are trying to figure out who needs prayer, it may be better to ask who doesn’t need prayer!

This week, try to think beyond your prayer list. Who are the people you encounter in your life that you can take a moment to pray for? Who are the “forgotten saints” in your life that you can spend more time praying for? This week, be generous in your prayers.

To discover more, visit Oak Grove Baptist Church